Release Date: May 10, 2016Platform: PS4Developer: Naughty DogPublisher: Sony Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Action-adventure
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End marks the return of charming and courageous treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, in his first and possibly last new adventure on PS4. From the opening moments of this gorgeous pirate tale, it’s clear that Naughty Dog has pulled out all the stops for what has been billed as Nate’s final chapter in the Uncharted series. Beyond the shining presentation, which sets an incredible new standard for quality in games, A Thief’s End takes a few exciting gameplay risks that make this the most broadly imagined Uncharted to date, with new stealth-based strategies for the gunplay, a layered world that’s begging to be explored both on foot and in vehicles, and a legendary Easter egg that will have people talking for quite some time to come. This is Uncharted for the next generation.
A Thief’s End is easily the best looking game I’ve ever seen on a console and the attention to detail and facial animations are simply unmatched in the industry today. Walking through the interior of a house early on in the game, I was amazed at how everything felt so tactile and almost impossibly real, with photos, appliances, and various knick-knacks covering every inch of available space. The same holds true of the game’s more expansive outdoor environments, which are breathing with life and vivid architecture and have a sense of depth like never before, thanks to a bigger emphasis on exploration.
The visuals and performance of the game become all the more impressive when A Thief’s End throws the action into high gear. In one of the game’s most thrilling set pieces, players have to speed down narrow city streets to escape the ruthless pursuit of an armored truck. The resulting convoy chase, which involves jumping from different vehicles and manning their controls before getting dragged behind one on a rope and firing at enemy motorcycles, is a crowning testament to the Uncharted name. While the set pieces as a whole are not as over-the-top as some of Uncharted series’ most bombastic moments, they still have a tremendous amount of weight to them, and it gives Nate’s final adventure a more grounded foundation overall.
The story can be a bit familiar and formulaic in parts, especially for returning Uncharted players, but it benefits greatly from the foreboding sense of finality that is instilled within the narrative, and the acting performances are top-notch as usual. The addition of Nate’s brother, Sam, proves a great fit alongside the rest of the cast and functions as a driving plot force. Nate has always been a treasure hunter at heart, and so it’s captivating to watch him grapple with the banalities of normal life in the game’s opening moments. It is in this steady and assured pacing that creative director Neil Druckmann’s influence is most readily felt.
But A Thief’s End is a huge step forward for the series not just because of the utterly jaw-dropping visuals and careful plotting, but also for the ways in which it opens up the environments and challenges to the player with more forward-thinking ideas about exploration. The most obvious example of this broader scope is the inclusion of drivable vehicles, which encourage venturing off the beaten path to make some unexpected discoveries. Driving across the muddy plains of Madagascar in an off-road jeep is a vast and breathtaking experience, and a winch system creates some clever environmental puzzles along the way. The game is still a linear adventure at its core, but it’s the meandering moments like these that bring out your inner adventurer, and the way they are handled is nothing short of masterful.
In fact, these moments of exploration, along with extensive platforming sections and stealth approaches, take precedence over all-out gunfights in A Thief’s End. Nate’s arsenal is largely the same as past Uncharted games, but the main difference here is the inherent openness of each battlefield, which necessitates a deeper strategy and faster thinking than what we’ve come to expect from the series. Each gun encounter is positioned around a rich and complex landscape with numerous different ways to sneak up on your adversaries, and conversely, for them to sneak up on you. You can conceal yourself in the high grass and wait for an opportune moment to strike, or you can bring a bit of verticality to the fight by jumping in, guns blazing. Either way, the layered landscapes and aggressive enemy A.I. makes every confrontation a visceral and rewardingly demanding affair.
The gunfights are dispersed throughout a steady flow of intricate platforming areas, which are made all the more engaging thanks to the new rope mechanic. Using a rope and grappling hook, Nate can swing through the environments and climb to sweeping new heights like never before, and it’s almost surprising how much depth this deceptively simple addition brings to the Uncharted formula. A Thief’s End takes its time with these quieter moments to gradually build its path to a soaring crescendo, and the structure delivers a true sense of accomplishment when you’ve actually made your way to that looming building you saw in the distance an hour ago (although admittedly, the over-reliance on platforming does offset the pacing a bit in the third act after a particularly blistering gun encounter).
These same ideas are successfully transported over to the multiplayer portion of A Thief’s End, which offers competitive Team Deathmatch, Plunder, and Command modes. Players will have to use the complexly layered environments to gain the upper edge on their opponents, with various grappling points dotting the maps. One of the focal components of multiplayer is the ability to purchase special items or attributes from the store while in the middle of battle, from a single rocket launcher blast to improved team revival capabilities. Sidekicks let you spawn your very own Sniper or Brute to do your evil bidding, while Mysticals add a supernatural advantage to your side, such as the “Wrath of El Dorado,” which summons a towering sarcophagus on the map to spew angry spirits at your opponents. Outside of the ranked battlefield, a healthy offering of trials lets you practice using the different multiplayer features while unlocking further perks and costumes.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End represents more than the finale of one of gaming’s most beloved franchises: it’s also a pinnacle achievement for modern video games. The visuals are unbelievably stunning, the locations are lush and vibrant, and the story packs a raw emotional punch. Not only that, but the welcomed additions of the rope mechanic and drivable vehicles, combined with a new emphasis on exploration and stealth-infused gunplay, elevate the game into bold and uncharted territory for the series. A Thief’s End challenges itself and evolves its gameplay to make the experience feel grander, more inviting, and ultimately more rewarding to behold.
I felt the same level of excitement and awe playing this game as I did the first time I played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and Naughty Dog has only solidified their standing as true masters of their craft with this release. Whatever the future of Uncharted may hold, I will keep A Thief’s End in my heart like the cherished old artifacts in Nathan Drake’s attic: an absolute treasure for years to come.
Joe Jasko is a staff writer.